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Retail Loco Preview: Retailers Need To Scale Location Tech And Connect It To The Wider Customer Experience

The LBMA’s Chicago conference explores "geo" as the ultimate dataset and how beacons and IoT are changing retail strategies.

The LBMA's Asif R. Khan
The LBMA’s Asif R. Khan

On October 22nd and 23rd, the Location Based Marketing Association will head to Chicago to host RetailLoco —a two day event that will deliver insights and trends on the latest in mobile and location-based tools and techniques for retailers. The event will feature keynote speakers, panels on indoor location, proximity-based payments, in-store digital signage, push notifications, metrics/analytics, and more.

Register for the LBMA’s Retail Local conference here and use this special promo code for GeoMarketing readers: GEO25. 

We talked with Asif R. Khan, the LBMA’s founder & president, about the ideas that will be addressed at the event.

GeoMarketing: Is there a central theme to this year’s Retail Loco conference?

Asif R. Khan: Our core thesis is always trying to get retailers, marketers to think about location as a dataset that spans all media types. It’s more than just mobile, right?

What we try to do with everything that we put together is really from that first panel that you mentioned which is how does the out of home piece tie into understanding who’s in front of those screens from a deal perspective. How does that work in television? How does that work in radio? How does that work in all these different media? That’s definitely a theme we’re going to discuss.

Are any specific dataset use cases or categories likely to get a bit more attention at this conference versus past events?

In prepping with some of the panelists on the calls that have been going on in the last week or so, there seems to be a desire to have some conversation about how the Internet of Things is going to play into that conversation.

Another thing that will get discussed a fair bit is the need for a lot of these location-based services that have been evolved over the last couple of years. They evolved and matured into solutions that are more integrated to existing retail systems. What I mean by that is it’s one thing to say, “Okay, here’s my beacon solution,” and for a retailer to take a chance and say, “Okay, we’ll pilot that in five stores.”

Where we see the big hurdles at the moment is when it comes to how do we take it from five stores to 500 and scale it, because in a lot of cases these technologies have been developed as point solutions. They aren’t designed to communicate with the CRM platforms and the loyalty platforms, and the point-of-sale systems. That’s where retailers really want to see some evolution, because if we’re going to scale these things, they need to talk with these existing systems.

It’s really about how do we take location data and tie that to other datasets, that make the messaging and the marketing that we’re going to do across these platforms, more intelligent, and contextual.

One of the panels is called “The Shopper Is The POS.” How does the idea reflect some of the topics Retail Loco will be exploring?

It touches on what we refer to as location being the cookie for the physical world. That is this idea of using location as a data point to track people throughout their day across devices and media types, from the moment they wake up in the morning and they grab their phone on the night table beside them, and they’re in a location and on a device, to them driving to work. You’re tracking where their car, radio in their car, to digital screens, throughout their day to ultimately television maybe when they get home. From a retail specific point of view, we talk now about this idea of retailers having a “three-layer cake location strategy.”

Imagine this really nice three-layer chocolate cake with all the icing on the top. It’s not sufficient for retailers to simply look at something like beacons, for example, and say, “That’s my location strategy.” What we want them to do is to say, “Okay, there’s really three parts of the location ecosystem that you need to be investing and building a strategy around.”

The bottom level, if you will, of the cake is the level that’s really about driving traffic. There’s a set of location services out there push notification technology that are provided by companies such as Urban Airship, Mblox, Thinknear, PlaceIQ, and all those guides that are really focused on how do we get people to stores. There’s a set of location technologies we think as a retailer you need to be evaluating and investigating to achieve that piece. Once you have them in the stores, then the world of indoor location takes over.

The second layer is really about engagement, dwell time, basket size, and things like that. That’s where beacons and wi-fi and all these other indoor technologies are the location technologies that you should be building a strategy around.

The third layer, which is the top of the cake, is really the transaction piece. That’s where things like Apple Pay and NFC, and all these other proximity-based tools that can facilitate a transaction, are the important facets that you need to be investigating at that level. That’s the piece that we really stress this to other systems, the CRM, the loyalty, point-of-sale. What we’re getting at there is that that’s not the end of the cycle.

What is the “end of the cycle?”

We want you to take the data, post-transaction, and feed it back into the Urban Airships and the Thinknears and the other companies to start this all over again. Because if David Kaplan walks into my store, we got him there, we engage him with a beacon and we did all that, that’s fine; but, if we actually know what you bought and you’re a regular customer there, and we’re able to use that data to influence you the next time to come in, now we can be must more specific, much more targeted in the ad that we’re pushing you in that first layer than if we didn’t have that data. That’s how we’re thinking about it and that’s how we want retailers to think about it.

Does all that mean that beacons have passed the education/experimental stage for retailers?

Yes, for the most part, we’ve passed the introductory stage for beacon technology. We’re starting to get to the point where serious roll ups are happening. The big evolution for me, in beacons specifically is the use of beacons in blending the online and the offline world together. The kind of things that companies such as Unacast are doing, where the beacon information is being used when consumers are outside the store. Part of what’s going to be discussed on that beacon panel. We want to acknowledge the traditional use case, if you will, of the beacon, which is “Hey, there’s a beacon in this aisle, somebody walked by and we pushed for the message on ‘Here’s save twenty percent on this product today.’”

Tons of companies have done that. But there’s so many other things that I think are really interesting and that we’re starting to see emerge as other use cases for beacon. We’re seeing beacons used as customer service framework, for example, like the project that we did with Barclays Bank. In that example, customers walked to the branch, and the beacon detects that they’re there — but it doesn’t push message to the customer at all. We use it as a way to push messages to the employee to let them know that a high profile customer just walked in the branch and might need extra assistance, things like that.

The idea of not just using location for employee and customer messaging generally, but to employee-to-employee engagement or how we allocate resources on the shop floor, all that stuff I think is starting to see real value and real merit in the eyes of the retailer and that’s going to be a big topic at next week’s conference.